Unfairness of Massachusetts pandemic lockdowns illustrated in overpayments

Unfairness of Massachusetts pandemic lockdowns illustrated in overpayments

March 16, 2022 0 By Elyse Kelly

New Massachusetts data shows more than half of the Commonwealth’s residents who received unemployment overpayments during the pandemic were low-income workers.

Between March 8, 2020, and Jan. 31, approximately 352,000 workers received $2.3 billion in overpayments of unemployment aid, according to a report filed by the Baker administration, as reported by the Eagle Tribune.

Data shows approximately 57% of those workers made between nothing and $27,800, while another 15% made between $27,872 and $52,000, the Tribune reported.

State lawmakers, including Labor Committee Chairs Rep. Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, and Sen. Patricia Jehlen, D-Somerville, called the data’s economic disparity “glaring.” They are concerned chasing down the overpayments will result in cost burdens to the state and to the recipients, the Tribune article stated.

Pete Earle, who is an economist at the American Institute for Economic Research, pointed out the disparity may be positive in certain respects.

“The fact that the bulk of unemployment benefits – overpaid or not – went mostly to the lowest earners suggests that the theory behind unemployment payments as a social safety net and the practical exercise of getting those payments to individuals who need them most is working, insofar as those programs do,” he told The Center Square.

Rather than pointing to wage disparities among the population, Earle suggested the data showed the disproportionate effect virus mitigations had on “individuals who aren’t part of the ‘laptop class.’”

“A virus didn’t create the economic downturn which in some ways states are still trying to climb out of,” Earle said. “It was pandemic mitigation policies which created a livelihood divide between white collar, skilled clerical employees usually able to shift to digital modes of work and poorer, less skilled individuals who were simply told to go home and wait until they were told to come back to work.”

Lawmakers should consider a more nuanced approach to any future pandemic responses, Earle stated, adding they should avoid targeting the demographic of workers who can least afford to be unemployed.

“The idea that in the face of a new virus or bacteria a choice needs to be made between public health and a viable economy is a false dichotomy; one we’ve heard over and over again,” he said. “Not only shouldn’t people who don’t or can’t work from home be suddenly and indefinitely unemployed, we are all worse off without the goods and services they provide.”

Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta has applied for permission to waive repayment of non-fraudulent overpayments from federal programs and is awaiting a reply, the Tribune reported.

This article was originally posted on Unfairness of Massachusetts pandemic lockdowns illustrated in overpayments